Laptop recommendations for vintage Windows games
June 11, 2021 9:44 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to have a cheap little laptop to play some of my favorite Windows 2000/XP games on. In the past I've run things through an emulator on Windows 8 and 10, but with certain games the frame rate becomes bizarrely fast and I can't adjust it. Can you recommend a modern laptop that can run Windows XP on it? Is that even possible anymore? I assume I will need to ensure that I never go on the internet with it for safety reasons.
posted by Hermione Granger to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You might want to look into Windows XP Mode for Windows 7. It's essentially a free Windows XP virtual machine.
posted by Diskeater at 10:27 PM on June 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Does it have to be a new laptop? I write on an old Thinkpad that was built for XP. It was sitting on a friend's desk where I work, and he said it had come with the office. I asked our boss if it was in use, and he said, "Take it." The next day I mentioned this to someone else and was given another one.
XP-era laptops have very little value. If I had to get one off Kijiji I'd look at paying about $60.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 10:54 PM on June 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

You'll likely need to look for XP-era hardware; newer hardware won't have the driver support you need and may not run at all since most computers come with a UEFI firmware (though most also support a legacy BIOS mode). I'd try using virtualization to run it before dedicating hardware to it.

If you do want to get an XP machine and you're planning to play games that require 3D accelerated video cards, a much better bet would be to get an XP desktop with an expansion slot that can take a 3D-capable video card from that era. Gaming-capable laptops were pretty uncommon for that time period.
posted by Aleyn at 11:51 PM on June 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have an old Dell XPS 17 with a 1st gen Core i7-740M, which would put it about late XP era, with a GeForce 445M inside. Something like that should run WinXP quite well, esp with up to 16 GB of RAM.
posted by kschang at 1:22 AM on June 12, 2021

DOSbox and Lutris and provide ways to play older games in newer hardware, accommodating the updates in hardware without losing the ability to play the game.
posted by k3ninho at 2:37 AM on June 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

If you're downloading old games to take to an offline computer running vulnerable operating systems, do remember to sheep-dip the download with a virus and malware scan before transferring it to the offline computer. If you detect malware, you'll avoid the pain of reverting to a backup or rebuilding the offline system.
posted by k3ninho at 2:42 AM on June 12, 2021

If modern hardware is running XP-era games at too-high frame rates, that won't be because they're running a more modern Windows than XP, it will be because they're modern hardware. Windows 7 and Windows 10 are perfectly capable of running on XP-era hardware, and when they do, both the OS and the programs running under it work at the same speed as they would have on XP.

Windows 10, in and of itself, is not notably resource-hungry compared to XP. So if you track down an XP-era laptop and stick Windows 10 on it, you'll end up with a machine slow enough to run your too-fast games at their expected speeds and safe enough to go online with. Modern web browsers, though, are huge and bloated and slow compared to their XP era ancestors and will run like sick dogs on that old hardware.
posted by flabdablet at 5:03 AM on June 12, 2021

Response by poster: This is super helpful, thank you. I am 100% down to go hunting for older hardware. A laptop would be a big treat because I am lazy and really want to be able to game from the comfort of my bed, but I remember how crappy the batteries in older laptops are, so a desktop tower is probably a better goal.

Please forgive the stupid question, but how do I know if a game requires a 3D accelerated video card? The games I'll be playing are these (I have them all on CD still):

• Sims 1 (all of the expansion packs)
• Age of Empires I and II
• Carmen Sandiego (like Great Chase Through Time)
• Zeus - Master of Olympus
• Poseidon

Any updated recommendations based on this list? I have an external CD drive in case I can get a newer, lighter laptop to do all this on.

I am already giddy over the prospect of playing pinball again
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:15 AM on June 12, 2021

If you have trouble finding older hardware, I’d 2nd trying DOSBox. It’s free and can run on modern Windows machines. DOSBox automatically adjusts the game speed for your specific system but you can manually slow down a game by pressing CTRL+F11 . More manual performance tweaks can be found here.

A few of your games appear to be compatible with DOSBox. Many older games can also be purchased on for around $5 or less and they appear to have a generous return policy.
posted by mundo at 7:58 AM on June 12, 2021

how do I know if a game requires a 3D accelerated video card?
Pretty much any city building or sims-like game from that era uses 2d graphics with maybe some parallax scrolling to give the illusion of depth, and won't need (or won't make much use of) 3D acceleration. All the games you listed would work fine on the most basic cards of the day.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:06 AM on June 12, 2021

Some old games that run too fast can be helped by using a software CPU limiter. I believe the last iteration of DOSBox that I used has one built in.

Some older games (notably Bladerunner), in certain sections, uses clock timing to determine speed - this isn't helped by a CPU limiter. The original Bladerunner, while it can be made to run on modern hardware, has a section that is unplayable and unadvanceable.
posted by porpoise at 12:15 PM on June 12, 2021

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